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Water Challenge - a blog by Peter Brabeck-Letmathe

Welcome

I hope this blog will create discussion about the important issue of water use and availability around the world.

Your comments and views are very important and I encourage you to help me build and develop the conversation.

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe

Chairman Nestlé SA

Water management – part two: on different users and overuse of freshwater

Water for agriculture – Berri irrigation pumping station in South Australia

In my first part I outlined some basic principles for access to water for basic needs in families and water as a human right. Let me now broaden the perspective by looking at other water users and drivers of their demand, and look into the issue of widespread and increasing overdraft of freshwater.

When talking about water management, tap water often comes to mind first. But the water used in households represents only a small percentage of total freshwater withdrawals for human use, some 10-15%.

Water management – part one: water for survival as a human right

Often when I talk about water management, some people think this means water privatisation. But it is not as simple as that.

I’d like to discuss some of my ideas on this subject in a four-part post, summarising points I’ve made earlier on this blog along the way.

Water management, for me, means using water very carefully according to its value and great importance for individuals and society - making sure there is the highest possible societal outcome from the provision and use of this increasingly scarce resource.

Water shortage “has to become the first priority”

Today’s Financial Times (please note the Financial Times has a paywall) carries an excellent, in depth look by Pilita Clark at “A world without water”, in which I make the case for world leaders to make water scarcity a bigger priority than climate change.

In the piece, which draws on a range of expert views, I argue that this problem is persisting because water is “so undervalued that it is typically used inefficiently – and there is not enough investment to boost supplies”. Regular readers of this blog will recognise this as a consistent theme: the need to set a price for water in order for its essential value to be recognised.

2014 Stockholm Water Prize for John Briscoe

In September 2014, the Swedish King will hand over the Stockholm Water Prize to John Briscoe for his unparalleled contributions to global and local water management, inspired by an unwavering commitment to improving the lives of people on the ground.

For several reasons, I have the feeling that there are relatively few people who are working in the water space who do not know John. John has been making a considerable impact for quite some years in a number of countries around the world. Please do read his CV if you would like to know more.

Water shortage and policies to stimulate savings in China

Traditional Turpan irrigation system

Over the last few weeks I reported about water shortage from overuse in several parts of the world. The rising demand for water and continuing poor management practices are also causing water crises in China. Some time ago I wrote about one of the symptoms, namely disappearing rivers (source). The first official national river census of China estimated that the country had 22,909 rivers, each with a catchment area of at least 100 square km, at the end of 2011. This is less than half of the more than 50,000 rivers estimated by the Government in the 1990s. The official explanation for this shortfall is mainly the “inaccurate estimate of the past, as well as climate change, (and) water and soil loss”. (source) This could explain why some of the rivers have disappeared, but the primary causes are likely to be declining groundwater and river flow levels, widespread deforestation and increasing withdrawal of water from water bodies. Quoting Peter Gleick from the Pacific Institute: “The water challenges in China are far greater than just climate change." (source 

Very recently I came across this post from Liping Jiang, senior irrigation engineer at the World Bank. It describes the situation, and also presents solutions. It was originally posted a couple of weeks ago on the Worldbank water blog. Thanks to Liping for his permission to repost.

     

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